Coco and Magnus — Days 29 through 35 — Creme Fraiche, Eloping, and Fog
Time is flying and internet connections are scarce! A brief glimpse into our fifth week. We finished Day 35 at mile 322.1.
4/5 Sunday – Day 29
* Too cold. My hands and feet froze and I was very sad and frustrated. There was no condensation on the inside of the tent because it had frozen. It was 22 degrees. I really disliked this morning until about 10:30am when I finally thawed.
* We hiked Max Patch and this grassy bald completely blew me away. Crystal clear views of mountains in every direction and families picnicking. Magnus and I dined on expired food from the hostel and hoped for the best. Spoiler alert: we survived.
4/6 Monday – Day 30 and 4/7 Tuesday – Day 31
On days that we go into town, I suddenly feel faster and lighter on my feet. Maybe it’s my excitement to take a shower and wash my clothes — or maybe I’ve eaten all my food and am very hungry. Likely it’s a bit of both. The second half of Monday and all of Tuesday I spent in the charming town of Hot Springs.
Words I didn’t expect to grace my tongue while hiking the Appalachian Trail: creme fraiche, souffle, and Belgian waffles dusted with powdered sugar. Far more exhilarating is that these foods and flavors did grace my tongue thanks to the outstanding establishment Mountain Magnolia Inn. The AWOL guidebook has limited, though helpful, information about accommodations, so I was anticipating a motel. Know why we chose to stay here site unseen? Four little letters — AYCE. To the uninitiated, these letters stand for All You Can Eat and are a magnet for thru-hikers with insatiable appetites. I could not have been further from the truth when I assumed a motel. Mountain Magnolia Inn would find itself right at home on Magazine St. in New Orleans. A gorgeous mansion built in the 1860’s with an sprawling oak tree directly beside the largest magnolia tree I have ever seen. And, yes, AYCE breakfast. Before I laid eyes on the actual site, I was dreaming of a breakfast consisting of school lunch milk cartons and a plastic containers of bulk generic cereals. As my family will attest, I do love cereal. In addition to cereal, I do love cuisine with high-quality ingredients and preparation. I’m a sucker for the finer things but can appreciate it all. Mountain Magnolia Inn provided two of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time. (If you don’t enjoy reading about food, please skip ahead.) I took great joy in describing these meals to Mad Hatter each day and I will do so again now. Day 1: egg souffle with creme fraiche, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, coffee, and juices. Day 2: egg souffle with potatoes, grits (!!!), bacon, sausage, Belgian waffles with berries, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, coffee, and juices. Gina assisted us with breakfast both mornings and was absolutely lovely. She was so accommodating that upon hearing that The Ambassador wasn’t fond of grits the first morning, she made a request for the chef to make him a special order of fried potatoes and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately for The Ambassador, he left the afternoon before and missed the potatoes. Fortunately for me, I accepted them on his behalf. The Ambassador’s Breakfast Ambassador. Enough with the breakfasts!
When we got to the inn, we took showers much to the delight of the staff and other guests. Magnus got to the inn first and the owner firmly, yet politely, suggested that he shower prior to finalizing the reservation. After the intense scrubbing (also, there were robes), we spied on a couple eloping beneath the oak tree from our window. Later, we did some preliminary shopping for our hiking resupply and were walking back through the garden. The newlyweds of three hours were standing on their balcony enjoying the incredible view of the grounds and mountains and clearly ready for round two of food. The bride (who was very beautiful and wearing an ecru vintage lace tea-length dress) asked if we had any junk food and Magnus happened to have an appropriate snack for the occasion — Little Debbie’s Fancy Cakes — so he tossed a pair up to the bride who caught it with impeccable timing. Huzzah! Everyone was happy.
4/8 Wednesday – Day 32
Magnus and I hiked a short day and camped near a pond. Good thing, too, because after the resupply my pack weighed 36.4 pounds. Yes. So. Heavy. And even heavier than Magnus’s pack for the day. I certainly felt proud of my strength and couldn’t believe the change I’ve experienced mentally and physically since my pack-weight-breakdown at Neel’s Gap.
With the proximity of the pond to our campsite and spring quickly making itself known, we were serenaded all night by frogs, birds, and insects. What was less delightful were the sounds of gunfire between two and three in the morning, but I guess you can’t win ’em all.
4/9 Thursday – Day 33 and 4/10 Friday – Day 34
We crossed the 300 mile mark, saw two snakes, and a wild turkey. Also, we played the game “Wall r AT?” again while hiking Firescald Knob. Hint: the answer is always AT. There’s also a game called “Stream or AT?” This one’s trickier. Stream? Wrong. This time it’s the AT. Let’s play again! Stream? You got it! Your chances are 50/50 with that one. Good luck.
Firescald Knob was a fun and challenging climb that had us scrambling over slippery boulders in the rain. Rain and fog again at a place revered for magnificent views? Yes! Team Fog Force in full effect.
Somewhere just after Big Butt Mountain , the trail changed and it was clear that this was a new addition or rerouting of the AT. With all the rain, the new trail was dripping down the side of the mountain and, sometimes, we dripped along with it. Muddy conditions make for very challenging hiking. To top it off, through this whole section we were traveling south rather than the overall northeast direction necessary to make it to Maine which feels rather counterproductive.
We met our first group of Sobos at Flint Mountain Shelter, which was rather surprising as we didn’t expect to see any for several months. We exchanged some stories and hostel recommendations and warnings.
4/11 Saturday – Day 35
Magnus wanted me to be sure to note that he requested his pills like a short order cook: “I want one pro, one fish, and two ads!” I delivered his probiotic, fish pill, and Advils to him in a bowl.
We were awakened in the night by all sorts of unpleasantness — violent puking, howling hound dogs, and ATV’s that rolled right through our camp. It made for a rough day of hiking but made it 15 miles anyway.
I’m very glad we’ve been diligent about maintaining our health (probiotics, electrolytes, hydration, hand washing, hand sanitizing, etc.) as this was the day some of our fellow hikers became sick. Being sick at home is a drag, but being sick in a privy is worse. We filtered water for our friends and offered electrolyte supplements and Pepto Bismol. And we also washed our hands a lot and tried to keep a safe distance without appearing too rude.
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